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Story 05: Memoirs of a Bubble Blower

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How I Came to the Museum

Written by Bernie Zubrowski

The beauty of the museum at this time is that it was an environment where experimentation and in-depth exploration of topics and methods was not only possible, but actively encouraged. And the results were broad, beyond my own personal and professional fulfillment: children were well served by museum programs, a rich mixture of creativity, research, and time-tested pedagogy.
- Bernie Zubrowski

I didn't deliberately set out to work at a museum. Hiring on at The Children's Museum was one of those events in life that just seem to happen and which then sets a course that somehow continues for a long time.

After completing an undergraduate degree in chemistry at Loyola College in Baltimore in 1962, I spent two years as a middle school science teacher in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh. When I returned to the United States, I completed an MST (Master of Science in Teaching) at Boston College in 1967.

While in graduate school, I had worked on the Elementary Science Study (ESS), a major science curriculum effort of the 1960s, at the Education Development Center in Newton, Massachusetts, and then for the African Primary Science program in Kenya, East Africa. Both programs involved developing science curriculum and doing professional development with elementary school teachers. I spent two years in Kenya developing science curriculum for elementary schools and worked with local teachers in the implementation of that curriculum. These early experiences were formative in shaping my thinking about how to develop science education activities and how to relate to people of other cultures. The learning gained from these experiences became directly relevant to my early years at The Children's Museum.

After returning from Kenya in 1969, I held temporary jobs as a science teacher in Washington, DC, and in Arlington, Massachusetts. I was desperately looking for work in the winter of 1970 (I had a wife and two children) when someone at MIT, who I had contacted about finding a job in science education, suggested that I talk to folks at The Children's Museum. I had an interview with Jim Zien and Phyl O'Connell. They were about to receive a new grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) that I could work on; however, they didn't have the money in hand yet. Phyl asked me what was the minimum amount of money I could survive on while waiting for the grant to come through. We agreed on an amount (I don't recall how much, but it was probably laughably low) and I started working at the museum.

At first, working at a museum seemed to be a major departure from what I had been doing in my previous work, but I found that I could bring past experiences with me, add newly gained knowledge and apply this combination of skills in a different kind of environment and educational context. It wasn't clear to me exactly what I would be doing and if, in fact, I would be at the museum beyond this one grant. Thus began my long tenure at the museum.

During my twenty-three years at The Children's Museum I wore several hats and worked at several different jobs, just like most other museum staff. I had a vague job description. I was called a "developer," which was generic. At various times I was involved with community education, working with afterschool program leaders, doing extended programs at the museum with Boston elementary school students, teaching part of a course at Boston University, writing children's science books and science curriculum, developing and designing exhibits. Sometimes all of these roles happened concurrently.

Next: The Early Years: Figuring ... and Working with Community Agencies